Hickling Priory


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020859

Date first listed: 09-Sep-2003


Ordnance survey map of Hickling Priory
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Norfolk

District: North Norfolk (District Authority)

Parish: Hickling

National Grid Reference: TG 41823 24808


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

From the time of St Augustine's mission to re-establish Christianity in AD 597 to the reign of Henry VIII, monasticism formed an important facet of both religious and secular life in the British Isles. Settlements of religious communities, including monasteries, were built to house communities of monks, canons (priests), and sometimes lay-brothers, living a common life of religious observance under some form of systematic discipline. It is estimated from documentary evidence that over 700 monasteries were founded in England. These ranged in size from major communities with several hundred members to tiny establishments with a handful of brethren. They belonged to a wide variety of different religious orders, each with its own philosophy. As a result, they vary considerably in the detail of their appearance and layout, although all possess the basic elements of church, domestic accommodation for the community, and work buildings. Monasteries were inextricably woven into the fabric of medieval society, acting not only as centres of worship, learning, and charity, but also, because of the vast landholdings of some orders, as centres of immense wealth and political influence. They were established in all parts of England, some in towns and others in the remotest of areas. Many monasteries acted as the foci of wide networks including parish churches, almshouses, hospitals, farming estates and tenant villages. Some 225 of these religious houses belonged to the order of St Augustine. The Augustinians were not monks in the strict sense, but rather communities of canons - or priests - living under the rule of St Augustine. In England they came to be known as `black canons' because of their dark coloured robes and to distinguish them from the Cistercians who wore light clothing. From the 12th century onwards, they undertook much valuable work in the parishes, running almshouses, schools and hospitals as well as maintaining and preaching in parish churches. It was from the churches that they derived much of their revenue. The Augustinians made a major contribution to many facets of medieval life and all of their monasteries which exhibit significant surviving archaeological remains are worthy of protection.

On the site of Hickling Priory, the probable boundary of the monastic precinct persists in features of the modern landscape, and within this area a variety of upstanding and buried features relating to the priory survive. The general plan of the church and claustral complex can be understood from the standing walls and the buried foundations revealed by crop marks and soil marks, and analysis of the medieval fabric and architectural detail preserved in the remains of the western claustral range and the surviving walls of the church can contribute to knowledge of the sequence of building and alteration during the 350 years that the priory existed as a religious house. The foundations and associated deposits will retain further archaeological information concerning its history and occupation, to supplement the documentary record. Other buried features in the surrounding area will provide evidence for the layout and organisation of the precinct as a whole, and for the domestic and agricultural activities which supported the religious life of the monastery. It is likely that some of these features contain waterlogged deposits in which organic materials which otherwise would not survive will be preserved, including artefacts and evidence for the local environment in the past.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes standing and buried remains of a medieval priory, situated to the north of the village of Hickling and about 2.5km inland from the coast, on a slight rise above the coastal marshes.

The priory, dedicated to St Mary, St Austin and All Saints, was founded in 1185 by Theobald, the son of Robert de Valoines, for canons of the Augustinian order. According to the records, the number of canons in the community, including the prior, was normally around ten. The priory was endowed originally with lands and churches in Norfolk and Suffolk, but in 1291 the total annual value of its possessions was assessed at only 15 pounds, 12 shillings and ninepence. This was, however, after a disastrous storm and flooding in 1287 which caused the death of around 180 people in Hickling. The water rose to more than a foot above the high altar in the priory church, and all the canons fled, apart from two who stayed to rescue the horses and other possessions by taking them up to the dormitory on the first floor. Other disasters which befell the community included the death of all but two of the brethren in the Black Death of 1349, and the deaths of several more during an epidemic in 1439. The priory benefited from further gifts and acquisitions, including the manor of Hickling, and although reports compiled during the 15th century suggest that its affairs, both religious and temporal, were sometimes poorly managed, the clear annual value in 1535 was recorded as 100 pounds, 18 shillings and 7 pence. It was dissolved in 1536, and the land granted to Sir William Wodehouse.

The probable boundaries of the monastic precinct are still defined by the Sea Palling Road on the west and north sides, and by drainage ditches on the south and east. It was roughly circular in plan, and about 24ha in extent. The ruined walls and buried foundations of the monastic church and conventual buildings which formed the heart of the complex lie south east of the centre of this area, and around them crop marks (lines of differential crop growth) recorded in aerial photographs demonstrate the survival of buried remains, including water management features and ditches which defined enclosures thought to relate to domestic and agricultural activies within the precinct. A track leading from the Sea Palling Road to Priory Farm probably follows the line of the original access which, according to monastic custom, is likely to have included a gatehouse at the entrance.

The greater part of the monastic church has been demolished, but the plan can be reconstructed from the standing remains of walls, crop marks, and the pattern of discolouration produced by mortar and building materials in the soil above the buried foundations. Aerial photographs of the crop marks show the outlines of parts of the walls and the location of piers which supported arcades and arches. According to this evidence, the church was cruciform, with a nave about 30m long and 7m wide, flanked by aisles of six bays, a central crossing with transepts to north and south, and a rectangular presbytery to the east of the crossing, with chapels on either side. The overall length was about 60m and the width of the nave and aisles together about 18m. The parts which survive above ground are the base of the wall of the south aisle, standing to a height of around 1m, and the more substantial remains adjoining the west wall of the south transept, which stands to a height of more than 4m. Both are constructed with a core of mortared flint rubble, and the transept wall retains some of its original facing of coursed flint. The west elevation of the transept wall, which faced onto a cloister adjoining the south aisle of the church, displays three large, regularly spaced recesses with pointed arches. The arches are headed with brick voussoirs which are partly overlaid by the remains of limestone facing. These walls, together with the standing remains of the claustral buildings, are Listed Grade II.

The claustral buildings were ranged along the east, south and west sides of the cloister, which was about 30 sq m. The east range abutted the end of the south transept, and fragments of its west wall survive to a height of around 1m. Between the end of the transept wall and the first of these fragments to the south there is a gap marking the entrance to what was probably the chapter house, where the canons met daily to discuss the business of the priory. The entrance to monastic chapter houses was often fairly elaborate, with a central door flanked by windows, and part of the jamb of a window, comprising the base of an hexagonal column supported on a plinth faced with brick, survives at the end of the wall on the north side of the gap. A break in the surface of the east face of the wall to the north of the jamb probably marks the position of the north wall of the chapter house, and the stub of the opposite wall projects eastwards from the wall to the south of the gap, giving a width north-south of about 5m. The buried foundations of the south end of the east range have produced cropmarks, showing that it extended about 22m beyond the south range. In addition to the chapter house, the east range usually contained a warming house and parlour on the ground floor, with the dorter (dormitory) on the floor above, and at the south end there was often a reredorter (latrine block).

At some point after the Dissolution, the ground floor, or undercroft of the west range was converted for use as a barn. The upper parts of the east and north walls have been largely rebuilt, but the west and south walls, constructed of flint masonry with brick and limestone dressings, still stand to the level of the original vaulting and retain much architectural detail, as well as evidence of later alteration. The range is about 29m in length and 9.5m wide overall, and was vaulted in eight bays. The limestone imposts and springers and the moulded brick wall ribs of the vaulting of four of the bays survive on the inner face of the west wall, and are of a type consistent with a date in the first half of the 14th century. The vaulting would have been supported by a row of columns down the central line of the range and, although these have now gone, their bases are likely to survive below the ground surface. The southernmost bay was a separate room, and the position of the cross wall which divided it from the rest is marked by a break in the surface of the west wall. This room was entered by a doorway on the west side, now blocked, and the base of one of the jambs of a second doorway, which probably communicated with an adjoining passage or chamber, can be seen towards the eastern end of the south wall. The main body of the undercroft, which was used for storage in most monasteries, consisted of the five bays to the north of this room, with doorways in the west wall opening into the bays at either end. The door opening at the north end is eroded and partially blocked, although some of the brickwork of the arch remains. The door to the south is also now blocked, but better preserved, with moulded limestone jambs and arches of 13th century type exposed on both sides of the wall. The outer arch of the door now faces onto the interior of a 19th century farm building, but one wall of that building, about 2m to the north of the doorway, incorporates a fragment of medieval masonry which was possibly part of a porch. This section of wall, which is included in the scheduling, contains the east jamb and part of the cinquefoil head of a blocked window opening, and is dressed at the east end with limestone quoins which abut the wall of the west range in a straight joint, showing that it is a later addition.

A compartment of two bays at the north end of the range is likely to have been the outer parlour, used for meetings between the canons and laity. The wall which divides this from the bays to the south shows evidence of rebuilding, but appears to be on earlier foundations. At the eastern end it curves around the south western side of a massive masonry foundation which is probably the base of a spiral stair to the floor above, where the prior's apartments were commonly situated, together with accommodation for guests. Two blocked openings in the west wall originally communicated with an adjoining compartment of two bays, measuring about 6.4m east-west by 3m internally. The east, north and west walls of this compartment retain evidence of vaulting similar to that of the main range, and there is a blocked door opening in the west wall, with traces of two blocked openings in the north wall which were probably windows.

An irregular lobe of masonry at the south eastern corner of the west range is thought to mark the junction with the north wall of the south range, which normally housed the canon's refectory. The buried foundations of what was probably the opposite wall have been revealed by a crop mark recorded about 8m to the south. Immediately to the south of the west end of this range there was another building, possibly the kitchen, the north west corner of which survives as upstanding masonry.

Monasteries required a regular and abundant supply of water for domestic and agricultural purposes, and several of the buried features revealed by crop marks around the church and claustral complex appear to relate to a complex water management system. The crop marks show two parallel leats extending from the east side of the precinct towards the south east corner of the cloister, and from the eastern end of the southern leat there are traces of channels branching south westwards towards an area of marshy ground, now containing a modern pond but perhaps, originally, the site of monastic fishponds. The two main leats cross similar parallel features which run north-south, then angle sharply WSW towards the southern end of the south range and the probable site of the latrine block. The location and pattern of the two sets of features suggest that they were part of the main water supply and drainage system. Two parallel linear features on a NNW-SSE alignment about 150m to the south west could be their outlet, carrying foul water from the kitchen and latrines.

About 20m to the north of the site of the church there are indications of two more parallel leats, connected at intervals by cross channels or ditches and running on an east-west alignment to a series of clearly defined rectangular crop marks which possibly mark the remains of a series of fishponds.

Intersecting linear features in the south western and south eastern quadrants of the precinct define parts of the boundaries of various rectangular enclosures of different dates, some of which are small in size and perhaps contained buildings. A broad, moat-like feature, visible as a well-defined crop mark, marks the boundary of the precinct on the south western side, but there is no evidence that this extended around the whole perimeter.

Various features are excluded from the scheduling; these are Priory Farmhouse, all farm buildings and outbuildings other than those described as relating to the medieval priory, track and yard surfaces, the concrete base of an oil tank adjoining the farmhouse, a septic tank, service poles, and all fences, gates and garden walls. The ground beneath all these features is, however, included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 30625

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Cox, J C, The Victoria History of the County of Norfolk, (1906), 383-386
Colman Green, G, (1922)
Edwards, D, Norfolk Landscape Archaeology AG 4124/A, (1978)
Edwards, D, Norfolk Landscape Archaeology AG 4124/AE,AG, (1986)
Edwards, D, Norfolk Landscape Archaeology AG 4124/AH, (1989)
Edwards, D, Norfolk Landscape Archaeology AG 4124/Z, (1990)
NF 8384 Hickling Priory,

End of official listing